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Lesson from the Gulf oil spill: Listen to the locals

Up and down the Gulf coast you hear local officials and others complain that they are being ignored in the response to the Gulf oil spill. That must change.

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One big lesson from the Gulf oil spill? Involve the locals from start to finish.

From Louisiana to Florida, officials are frustrated and angry about the disconnect between those running the response to the spill and the many communities affected by it.

In the Pensacola Beach area in Florida, for example, one county official told a Monitor reporter that local requests for more federal help with a large oil swath were initially rebuffed because certain kinds of equipment could not be put on a national seashore.

But most of Santa Rosa Island, where Pensacola Beach is located, is a public beach. “How could they not know that?” said Grover Robinson, Escambia County Commission chairman. “How can you fight a war when you don’t let the people on the ground make decisions?”

He’s not alone in his complaint that local expertise is going unheeded or untapped and that the line of command is tangled and slow to respond.

Across the Gulf, cleanup crews hired by BP’s contractors are trained, but many are outsiders who don’t know the location of pelican nesting grounds or the strength and effect of tides. Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, said at a Senate hearing in June that he still didn’t know who was in charge. “Is it BP? Is it the Coast Guard?”

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